The Racing Point Force India team got off to a good start in their 2018 Formula 1 campaign with a double Top 6 result especially after the turmoil it went through in the last few weeks.
Heading into the Belgian Grand Prix weekend, the team weren’t even certain of competing as the sale process couldn’t be completed on time. As a result, Lawrence Stroll and co had to create a new team instead of continuing with the old one.
Eventually, the Racing Point Force India team was born and cleared to race by the FIA. The team did an impressive job on Saturday to line-up Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez third and fourth on the grid for Sunday’s race.
The two drivers went four abreast against Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel on the Kemmel Straight on Lap 1 in the race then with Ocon only a meter short to overtake Vettel on the inside. This helped Perez to clear Ocon for third.
It was then a straightforward race for the duo as they only lost out to the faster Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen and Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas in the end to finish fifth and sixth and score 18 points on debut of the now British-licensed outfit.
It was a big relief for the team’s new CEO Otmar Szafnauer as they are back on track to do what they are supposed to in racing weekends. “It is a big relief for all the employees that are with Force India that we are racing again,” he said.
“Most importantly the thing we try to best is do a good job on track and I think today [Sunday] was probably the best we could have done, so it is a big relief.” For the drivers though, it was plain sailing with few wheel-to-wheel battles.
“It was quite important to get ahead of Esteban at the start,” said Perez. “I was then able to go in free air. I had tremendous pace as well, so I managed to open a great gap [to Ocon]. Afterwards it was about looking after the tyres, pushing as much as I could.
“The second stint, I was pushing so hard to keep Bottas behind but it was simply not possible – at times I was nearly eight tenths quicker than Esteban so I was pushing to the maximum today [Sunday].
“I think we finished where we deserved and I think it is a great amount of points for the team, so a great start of a new era.” On the other hand, Ocon tried to take Vettel at the start but lost out to Perez as a result.
“It was a great race,” he said. “Of course we started third and fourth that helps definitely in the race. We had a good battle in the first lap also, so it was good fun. I had a good launch, no wheelspin which is important here and got cleanly out.
“On the Kemmel Straight, I had a good gap and I was happy with it, slipstreaming Lewis then I tried to go on the inside, I was on the inside of Sebastian. I lacked a meter and it was very narrow so I braked a bit early and then obviously I lost a place to Sergio.
“Seb was fair, he left me space but then it was a great race anyway. After that it was to keep up with everybody. Of course the top cars, they were much quicker and we just stayed there and also we had a good fight with Max.”
While they can savour the big comeback on a track which has traditionally suited them the most, there is still some work to do off track with legal formalities. One part of it is driver contracts with speculations from every corner of Lance Stroll joining.
There is a new call everyday in the paddock about the possible line-up but Szafnauer for now clarified that they will have the same two drivers at Monza this weekend at least. When asked, he said: “For sure, we will have the same two drivers in Monza.”
The change could take place in Singapore though but only time will tell. For now, the immediate goal is to finish as high as possible in the constructors’ championship. They are just one point behind Sauber with eight races remaining.
Szafnauer reckons sixth or seventh is a possibility. By the looks of it seventh is an achievable position and there is an outside chance of sixth which will depend on how McLaren performs. Haas though ruled out any threat from Force India for fourth/fifth.